Next year will mark a stunning half-century since Richard O’Brien’s iconic musical “The Rocky Horror Show” first appeared on the scene. The eccentric rock and roll extravaganza is still gaining strength and hit Regent Theater this week as part of a world tour.
It has been watched by more than 30 million theatergoers in more than 30 countries, but judging by the reception on the opening night, the years have not weakened its appeal. I had never seen a crowd in Stoke-on-Trent burst into such frenzy even before the show began.
The play begins with two filthy American college students – Brad and Janet – going to visit their former professor. When their car breaks down, they seek help in a horrible castle and get a lot more than they expected when they meet Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter – the “cute transvestite from Transylvania” – whose X-rated antics start to ruin their innocence.
From now on the show turns into a chaotic toss with a little noticeable plot, but I guess that’s the point. Two years after the musical opened in 1973, it spawned a cult film. The film and theatrical versions gathered loyal fans, and most Regent viewers seemed to know the performance by heart, chattering and clapping in anticipation of their favorite moments.
Beginners (also known as virgins) may find it all a little embarrassing, but there is no doubt that every cast member gives excellent performance. Ora Oduba (former winner of Strictly Come Dancing) and Hailey Flaherty have excellent chemistry and they play Brad and Janet.
Philip Franks is great as a narrator, dealing with the obligatory “audience involvement” with a quick, dry mind and throwing up relevant references that included a joke about Prince Andrew, who, according to Franks, was “probably a betrayal”.
Rocky Horror veteran Christian Lavercomb has perfected his role as the gruesome Reef-Raff, and Ben Westhead manages to add more than his impressive physique, even though he spent most of his time wearing only a pair of wavy parrot smugglers.
The show really belongs to Stephen Webb in the role of the legendary Frank and Foster. It’s not easy to take on such a cult character, but he does it brilliantly by substituting musical numbers and investing more risky parts of the performance.
In addition to the stellar cast, the scenery and costume design make this production a visual celebration. The soundtrack also became legendary with the classics Sweet Transvestite, Damn it Janet and – of course – The Timewarp, under which the audience could not wait to get up and dance.
It has become a well-known tradition for spectators to dress up in costumes inspired by the show. Although there were several attractive ensembles at the opening, there were fewer people in costumes than I expected. I suspect this may change as the weekend approaches.
It is recommended that the show be for kids ages 12 and up, but as a daughter’s mom who is close to that age, personally I wouldn’t recommend it for younger teens. This is not for those who are easily offended.
I understand why this play was groundbreaking when it first came on stage. Fortunately, attitudes toward gender and sexuality have changed greatly since then, so perhaps it has lost its original influence.
But it has clearly been taken to the hearts of generations of fans, and its popularity shows no signs of declining. It remains a completely insane evening, full of fun and jokes, which certainly received rave reviews from the audience at the Regent Theater.
The Rocky Horror horror show takes place at the Regent Theater in Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday, June 18th. To book, call the box office at 0333 009 6690 or go online here.